The enteric nervous system (ENS) controls the gastrointestinal system. Enteric glia have long been regarded as the essential “glue” of the ENS. Now, however, two independent reports in this issue of the JCI provide compelling evidence that mouse enteric glia can also be neuronal precursors. These reports show that enteric glia give rise to neurons in vitro and that neurogenesis can be experimentally induced to occur in vivo in the adult mouse ENS. Unfortunately, glia do not constitutively replace neurons, and neurogenesis is not easily provoked. Although these new observations make it clear that clinical trials using glia to replace enteric neurons are more than premature, they are enticing for future research.
Michael D. Gershon